2011 NHL Free Agency: The 15 Best Free Agents Still Available in September
September is the month most hockey fans associate with the home stretch of the offseason. Training Camps across the league kick into action towards the end of the month, and the new season is just around the corner.
For some players, however, September is an agonizing month centered around scrambling to find a new team for the upcoming season. Those players weren't sought after enough in free agency, and they still find themselves unemployed.
Many, if not most, of them will end up signing Pro Tryout Contracts (PTO) before the season rolls around. Some of them will leave for the European pro game. Some will be forced to retire.
This is a list of the best 15 free agents remaining on the market. We wish these players all the best and hope they all find a new employer before the 2011-12 seasons begins.
15. Brad Winchester
In many ways, it's surprising to see Winchester still on the market. The 6'5 winger is at his best on the the league's most productive fourth liners, and is incredibly valuable. The subject of a midseason trade to Anaheim, Winchester played in 76 games total last year, 57 of which were with the St Louis Blues, scoring 10 goals and 6 assists.
He will likely end up on a contending team looking for bottom line depth. There is a good chance he signs a PTO and attends a training camp playing for a job.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: San Jose Sharks
14. Marty Turco
After a sparkling career with the Dallas Stars, Turco signed with the Blackhawks last summer expected to come and become their new starter. Soon enough, Corey Crawford came in and stole the job, and Turco was demoted to a mentoring role.
That is likely the job he has this upcoming season. He would be a great fit on a team in need of a veteran, experienced back-up to help their youngster. He is still an NHL legend, and showed last year that while he is beyond his best, he can still produce and be effective.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
13. John Madden
John Madden is far past his best, but he can still be effective as a penalty killer and contributor off the fourth line. Last season, he put up 12 goals and 13 assists with the Minnesota Wild. He was expected to re-sign with them, having said he wouldn't want to go elsewhere, but they are willing to give their youngsters a shot and that leaves him on the outside looking in.
Madden can still fill a bottom line role and bring a good veteran presence to the locker room. There is a good chance he retires if he is unable to find a new team by training camp.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Anaheim Ducks
12. Kyle Wellwood
San Jose Sharks
When he's at his best, Kyle Wellwood is your prototypical third line center. He's strong on the puck, drives the net, is solid in the faceoff circle, and can be effective on the penalty kill. Unfortunately for him, he has struggled to be at his best these past few seasons. He managed 13 points in 35 games with the Sharks last year, but careers highs of 18 goals and 45 points show what he is capable of given a full season.
Teams don't seem to want to take a chance of Wellwood because of that inconsistency. It's difficult to take a chance on a player when you don't know what you're going to get. He may end up as a thirteenth forward this season, for a team who need top end security on their third and fourth line.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Philadelphia Flyers
11. Steve Bernier
Steve Bernier is a great player coming off a bad season, and in many ways it is a mystery why he hasn't been snapped up. At 26, he is still young and he will only get better. He can contribute as a solid third liner or above average fourth liner, and he has shown in the past that when surrounded by high quality players he can really thrive.
Bernier will find a team for next season, but he will most likely have to wait until someone discovers a burning need in camp. He'll need a solid season, but as mentioned, if he can find some good line-mates the Quebec-native should be fine.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: New Jersey Devils
10. JP Dumont
JP Dumont is very versatile forward who is coming off a tough couple of seasons. The center, who can really play in any forward position, laboured to just 19 points in his 70 games last season with the Predators, seeing his role diminish as the year wore on. He was subsequently bought out by the Preds.
Dumont has been a star in this league in the past, and he still has a lot to give in the tank. There are several teams with insecurity at their third line center position, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him sign a PTO as camp approaches and compete with a young prospect for a spot.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Washington Capitals
9. Pascal Leclaire
Prospect Robin Lehner readiness for the NHL meant Pascal Leclaire was not needed in Ottawa. That doesn't mean he is not a good goalie.
Leclaire is super-talented, but has struggled with injuries in the past. If he's fit and playing at his best, he is definitely in the top tier of goalies, and he could be effective for a team who needs a back-up that can play a lot. The trend in the Quebec-native's career has been that the more he plays, the better he plays. He will have an NHL team in 2011-12 season; he just needs to be patient and wait for them to come scrambling to him.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: New York Islanders
8. Bryan McCabe
New York Rangers
Bryan McCabe has tumbled down the NHL depth charts quickly, as a loss of speed and agility have taken their toll. Last year was a testament to that, with just 28 points in 67 games.
Fortunately, McCabe will likely still find a team with his so-called 'veteran presence' being his key to a return. He should be able to help a team with a young defensive corps who need some steel and a calming force in the locker room. That said, this could well be McCabe's last year in the NHL.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Colorado Avalanche
7. Marek Svatos
Given the right linemates and patience from the coaching staff, Svatos can be an explosive scorer who can be an offensive force. He proved that with a strong 50 points in a 61-game rookie season in 2005-06. While he hasn't repeated numbers like that in recent seasons, the Slovak is an out-and-out goalscorer who can be effective off the first line. As mentioned, he just needs to be given time.
Svatos will likely sign with a contender looking for top six help. He is a project player and is a very high risk, very high reward player. He could be a candidate for a PTO and competition with a youngster.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Ray Emery
Ray 'Razor' Emery is undoubtedly one of the most talented goalies in the NHL. He just always has had a bad attitude. He could have been one of the elite players in the league, but instead he is a free agent hoping that a team will pick him up.
Fortunately for him, he is just too good a player to be without a team. He should fill a backup role this year, but could find himself as a starter by the end of the season. He has an invitation to go to Chicago's camp, and faces a battle with Alexander Salak for a spot. He'll have a fight on his hands; the jury is out on this one.
5. Cory Stillman
By all means, Cory Stillman is past his best, but he has shown himself to be a player that can be effective and produce a long way into his thirties. He is a versatile forward who can be useful on the special teams. Last season saw him put up 39 points in 65 games in a season split between the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Whoever picks him up could expect similar numbers this season.
Like many of the players on this list, Stillman is likely to return to the NHL as a veteran on a young team in a mentoring role. He still has the potential to be a top six forward, and help the transition of youngsters to the rigours of the NHL. It's unlikely he signs a PTO.
4. Sergei Samsonov
It is definitely a surprise to see Samsonov still on this list. At 32, he still has a good six years of quality NHL time ahead of him, and he showed in a 20 game stint with the Panthers last season that he can still produce (14 points). He is a top six player on almost any team in the league, and will be cheap this late in the offseason.
At this point, it seems unlikely he signs in the KHL. Samsonov will sign for a contending team in need of depth in their top nine. He is a dynamic player who puts fans in the stands, and he will be with a team come the new season. He could well sign a PTO.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Nashville Predators
3. Chris Campoli
Chris Campoli has established himself as a solid second pairing defenseman in the NHL, and there is no doubt he has plenty of offers on the table. Right now, it is just about finding the right club and signing on the dotted line.
Campoli, 27, will likely end up as a third pairing defenseman next year, but he has the ability to work his way up into a more important role. He will have a new club, there is no doubt, but it is difficult to pinpoint a potential team for him. There are several organisations who could use depth on the blue line. It wouldn't be surprising to see him join a developing team who need to reach the cap floor, where he would be able to embed himself as a key part of a rebuild.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
2. Anton Strålman
Columbus Blue Jackets
More than anyone else on this list, it is downright shocking to see Anton Strålman still on the market. He has emerged as a very solid defensive player in this league, and would fit in and find a spot on all 30 NHL defenses. At 25, he is still young and is still developing. He will only get better, and right now he is an above average second pairing defenseman.
He will sign for a contender looking for a top tier defenseman. Much like Campoli, he should soon work his way up whichever depth chart he finds himself on and become a key player. He still has the potential to become an elite level blue liner in the NHL, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Swede get there sooner rather than later. This late in the offseason, he would come at a bargain price. Whoever gets him gets a steal.
1. Teemu Selanne
In many ways, Teemu Selanne is not a free agent. Simply put, he is not 'free'. Unless you're name is the Anaheim Ducks, you will not be able to sign the Finnish Flash.
That said, he does officially fit on to this list. He is without a contract for next season for the simple reason that he is undecided on his potential retirement. He is coming off a June knee surgery, and everyone appears to be holding their breath over whether or not he resigns. He may well retire if his health doesn't hold up, but there is a good chance he comes back.
One thing is sure: if he does come back, it will be with the Ducks.
Predicted 2011-12 Team: Anaheim Ducks
Follow Jacob Ware on Twitter at @jacobware95